Written by Bakersfield Magazine
All throughout our city, we are surrounded by historic buildings and statues which bring character, charm, and serve as reminders of the incredible past Bakersfield possesses. Colonel Baker sits forever focused in front of City Hall while Father Garces tirelessly keeps watch over the Garces Circle. We are fortunate to still have such markers in town that have survived the trials of time and bear such great historical significance. Although, sometimes these seemingly fixed objects disappear, and some pictures and memories are all that we have left of them.
The Kern County jail on Truxtun and Q Street, prior to the 1952 earthquake, was not only known for keeping bad guys locked up, but also for two grand terra cotta lions that sat on either side of the front entrance, as if guarding the facility. Unlike the cold, boxy feel that most modern jails elicit, this structure had stories-high arched windows and intricate designs. These 12-foot by 5 1/2-foot behemoths were not only a source of wonder, but also of fun, as many young boys were apt to climb and play on them. The lions would remain in that spot for 47 years until the jail had to be updated. With the disappearance of the building, the lions vanished, as well.
According to a historical article by Gilbert Gia (www.gilbertgia.com), the lions were put up for auction and were sold in 1962. They didn’t go to a local art collector or a historian of any sort, though. Surprisingly, the winning bid was for $175 and the lions went to none other than a fraternity in Reno. The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity from UNR—whose mascot is, naturally, the lion—became the proud owners of Bakersfield history for less than $200! What isn’t so surprising is the trouble the statues have encountered since the purchase.
From the start, the move was perilous. The lions arrived at their new home in pieces, and it didn’t get much smoother from there. They have been painted and defaced many times over by rivaling fraternities. Their teeth have been knocked out and their whiskers have been mangled. A lot of epoxy, paint, time, and love have gone into maintaining the pair, and they still stand guard today.
As for Bakersfield, the actual statues may never return here, but efforts have been made to recreate them in town. In time, their likeness may once again evoke those feelings of awe from new generations and countless more to follow.
Photos courtesy of Kern County Museum
Article appeared in our 29-1 Issue - April 2012